July 9, 2007
All's Quiet in the Western Suburbs
Every July an eerie silence settles over InterVarsity Press's corporate compound in the Western Suburbs of Chicago. You could set your watch to it--if your watch reported time in monthly increments rather than second by second.
The blame can be cast in a variety of directions. Maybe everyone is being quiet out of respect for the accountants conducting our annual financial audit, which follows the end of our fiscal year in June. Maybe July is the vacation month of choice here, so that people can cash in on their newly replenished vacation time or recover from their year of editorial exertion. Maybe people are simply traveling as representatives of the Press at industry events such as the International Christian Retail Show or ministry events such as the Emergent Midwest Gathering. Or maybe the summer heat has sucked any remaining vestiges of extroversion out of our editorial staff.
Me, I like a little noise in my life--a fact that doesn't really harmonize well with my chosen profession. Editors edit, which requires concentration, which according to conventional wisdom requires silence. Not so with me: I whistle while I work, much to the perturbation of my coworkers. I listen to my tunes on iTunes. I keep my door wide open so that I can say hi when people walk by. July--the quietest of all editorial months--can become a bit oppressive for me as a consequence.
But then again, there are times when I do close my door because I've become overwhelmed by sensory overload. There are times when I can't sleep because the sounds of the day have become the noises echoing in my head. There are times when I need silence.
Adele Calhoun writes of silence in her wonderful Spiritual Disciplines Handbook:
Jesus told his disciples, "I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear" (John 16:12). It is [the] Holy Spirit's job to keep the inner process of revelation underway. But in order for the Spirit to do his job, we need to cooperate and put ourselves in a place to deeply and reflectively listen.
Silence really does serve its purpose: to free up mental space, to calm our bodies down, to prepare us to receive. So every once in a while I like to allow silence to interrupt my sonic playground, in the same way that I welcome the sounds of people occasionally interrupting my times of silence. That, I think, is what St. Ambrose was doing under Augustine's scrutiny in The Confessions--finding the proper balance between welcoming God and welcoming others. Sometimes I use Augustine's observation of his practice as a "Do Not Disturb" sign on my doorframe:
When he was reading, his eye glided over the pages, and his heart searched out the meaning; however, his voice and tongue were at rest. Often when we had come to see him, for no man was forbidden to enter, . . . we saw him reading to himself in this way, and never otherwise. Seeing that he sat silently for so long--for who dares to intrude on one so intent?--we were inclined to depart.
This July I hope to receive the silence around here as a gift rather than as an oppression, but trust me: I'll happily welcome the interruptions as they come, because I enjoy a visit just as much as I enjoy the silence.